In the 14 months since I opened San Francisco Pole and Dance, our instructor team has grown from 6 to 18 people. Of all the various things that take time during the week — course curriculum development, legal, contracts, event management, project management, teaching, etc., — hiring and recruiting are the activities that I spend the most time on.
I started recruiting before I opened my doors because I know that building a great team is the foundation to any business’ success. I wanted to develop a hiring process that assessed each potential instructor fairly and optimized for successful hires. “Successful” for me, is a hire who can thrive with relative autonomy, teach safely, and contribute to building a community-oriented space for students to learn and grow. In order to build that hiring process, I went back to a lot of what I learned working in tech startups.
The tech world is used to the idea that hiring decisions should be data-driven (Let’s put aside for now the fact that even many startups confuse confirmation bias with data. That is its own post). At the startups that I worked in, my role was some variation of operations management. As each startup received funding and scaled, people operations became a bigger part of my role because with funding comes hiring. One thing that I learned over and over was how hard hiring can really be.
Comprehensive studies show that the most commonly used interview techniques, such as unstructured job interviews, and reference checks are in actuality surprisingly terrible at predicting a candidate’s future performance. Even the number of years of experience a person spends performing a type of work ends up being not very useful in determining how someone will perform in a similar role at a new company.
The evaluative measure that works the best? The work sample test. This is where candidates are given a series of tasks that mirror the work they would do in a given role, under similar psychological conditions. Following the data, I developed my own work sample test using a class audition framework that mirrors the circumstances of an actual class by including various levels of students.
The following is a list of the things that I look for during these technical auditions.
I. Safety Oriented. A great instructor is one who puts safety first. During the audition, I ask instructors to demonstrate safe entry and exit out of tricks and skills. Sometimes, I will incorrectly kick into tricks to see if the instructor will offer simpler progressions. A great instructor knows which parts of their own body to use when they spot and which parts of a student’s body to touch and hold when spotting. If a student is not ready to perform a trick, the instructor is not afraid to tell them so and instead gives the student pre-requisite exercises to work on before they try the trick again. When working on inverted tricks that a student hasn’t performed before, the instructor will direct students on where to place crash mats in order to use them effectively.
II. Technical skill. Closely related, a great instructor understands how the body needs to move to achieve different pole tricks and performs those movements carefully, slowly (when dynamic movement is not needed) and with both actions — demonstration, and words. I spend time assessing whether the instructor knows how to build progressions for different levels of students, how to scale a trick back for someone who isn’t quite there for the movement being taught and how to add onto a trick to make it harder so that students who are more advanced also feel challenged.
III. Professional Communication. I generally schedule auditions 1–3 weeks in advance. The email threads, Facebook messages, and phone conversation over the space of time before the technical teaching part of the audition are also part of the audition. During this time, I assess how the instructor communicates. Are they clear and trend towards over-communicating or do they email me an hour before the audition takes place because they can’t remember the time, find the calendar invite, remember the location, or any other thing they’d know if they read back through their emails or checked Google? In those cases when communication falls through the class, I prefer to pay the instructor, thank them for the audition but cancel the class portion. I look for instructors who responds to emails within 48 hours, show up at least 10 minutes early and plan the logistics of the teaching portion of the audition in advance.
III. Likes Teaching. A great instructor enjoys teaching. In the performance and artistic world of pole and aerials, there are many fantastic performers who teach during their down time, not because they want to, but because it’s what pays the bills. I prefer to work with instructors who genuinely enjoy the teaching process and exhibit empathy when their students struggle with the movement progressions being taught. They get excited about their student’s successes and share that joy and encouragement with their students. I’ve auditioned fantastic performers who I haven’t hired because they seem bored or because they’ve told me how they ‘only do this in between gigs’. That attitude is not conducive to great teaching or community building and so, while I enjoy watching these instructors perform, I prefer to hire people who enjoy the art of teaching.
IV. Community-Oriented. At San Francisco Pole & Dance, our mission is to create community. Naturally, it is important to me that instructors are community oriented. To test this in a technical audition, I watch out for a couple of things; (i) Whether the instructor asks me about what I’m working on, and what my goals are for the class, (ii) Whether the instructor asks me questions about my recent injuries and recent progress, and (iii) whether the instructor provides opportunities for students to get to know each other. One example of the latter is something I’ve seen consistently across Crossfit gyms; a couple of minutes at the beginning of class spent on introductions, and shaking hands with new people who haven’t been to the studio before. I love things like this because it helps students of similar levels get to know each other and creates a more trusting environment to learn, grow, and importantly, make mistakes in.
So many people who identify as pole dancers and aerialists do so because they don’t fit into the boxes of more mainstream sports. A great instructor will celebrate the unique goals, progress, and successes of each student because that is what makes community flourish.
V. Pole Dancer, loud and proud. I appreciate instructors who don’t actively try to separate their pole/aerial lives from their ‘real’ lives. When people ask them what their hobbies are, they talk about pole, even it means getting a lot of tired questions about the difference between pole dancing and stripping.
In class and on social media, they spread the gospel about why pole matters and why it’s important for people to celebrate their sexuality. They acknowledge the reality that pole often does have sexual undertones to it and know that it’s not ‘basically gymnastics’, even if more mainstream people call it that because that makes them feel OK about liking their pole dance videos.
I believe that this loud and proudness empowers by example, making it OK for the larger community to celebrate their pole journeys publicly as well. This picture of one of the San Francisco Pole and Dance instructors, Tiffany Rose, embodies this unabashed pride.
Note that this final criteria is mostly specific to pole dancing (not aerials) and is not an essential element. I believe being out about pole dancing is a luxury that many people simply can’t afford on a financial, reputational or emotional level. I would not not hire someone if they were still in the closet about pole dancing but I do have a preference for ‘out’ people.
Final Note. One thing that I don’t look for are certifications. In the pole and aerial world, certifications are generally 2-day, 12-hour instructional sessions. I do not believe that time allotment is enough to gain enough real, practical knowledge to become a teacher. That said, having a certification does indicate a level of dedication to safety but I prefer to assess that skillset through the technical interview and not by looking at a piece of paper.
And if these attributes describe you? E-mail me. I’m hiring. :D